Waste isn’t ‘waste’ until it’s wasted…

Do you ever cast an eye over your purchases at the end of a grocery shopping trip and wondered how many Rands you’ve spent on consumables and how much on packaging? If you’re not in the habit of recycling, perhaps not. It’s when one is conscious of the need to place recyclable materials into a specific bin/location, that one is aware of the volumes of packaging accompanying the toothpaste, toilet paper, tuckbox contents and toothsome goodies.

If we don’t recycle, we just toss the ‘waste’ into our bin and forget about it. At least, that is, until the day of the week when the ‘good fairies’ come and remove it from outside our gates. At this point, often when we hear the rumble of the waste operator’s truck, we curse mildly at our forgetfulness, and hasten to place our refuse bags out for collection, whence they and their contents disappear into oblivion. Or do they? Are they merely ‘out of sight; out of mind’?

From a study undertaken in 2008, statistics reflected in the DTI’s January 2009 publication ‘Proposed Road Map for the Recycling Industry’ indicate that 29% of Johannesburg’s waste stream – 32% in the case of Ekurhuleni – consists of mainline recyclables – paper, plastics, glass, tins and tyres. These can be reprocessed to make more plastics, glass, tin and rubber products. If we do this, we avoid the manufacture of more materials from virgin resources. This reduces environmental destruction (mining impacts), fuel use and emissions (transportation of raw materials), saves water and energy (significantly reduced in using recycled over virgin materials). Preventing recyclables going to landfills, extends the life of those landfills – which is a saving in our collective pockets. Not only are new landfill sites difficult to find and costly to construct and operate, but no-one’s excited about living next door to them, so they’re situated away from built-up areas. Increasing costs of transport to outlying areas means extra costs to us, the disposers.

So it’s in our own interests to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. Considering the additional number of people that could be employed in collecting our recyclables, affording them a living and possibly reducing the need for them to resort to criminal activities to survive, our interests are even better served. And why if the recyclables are not ‘waste’ do we treat them as waste. Old habits die hard, as we know. Consciousness is steadily growing, though, about the usefulness of much of these resources. But we need also as consumers to play a role in consciously seeking out and buying items made from – or incorporating – recycled content. If we don’t support the market for items made from recycled materials, the demand for recyclables will drop.

But how to tell whether an item’s made from recyclables? 10 years ago in Canada fleeces were on offer, bearing the label ‘made from recycled PET’. These were selling like hot cakes, while their ‘virgin’ cousins looked dolefully on. We need signals or labels that indicate the recyclable content of products. Now that consumers are more conscious about how their buying habits potentially impact on the future of their children and grandchildren, the astute manufacturer needs to be shouting from the rooftops ‘MADE FROM RECYCLED MATERIALS’!

What about food ‘waste’? Well, when we’re bemoaning the soaring prices of food, how is it that we buy/prepare more than we can consume? Organic waste (which includes garden waste), according to the same survey of Johannesburg landfills, constitutes between 9% and 20% of the waste stream. This is the waste fraction that rots and goes putrid, belching methane into the atmosphere. At 20 times more heat-trapping a greenhouse gas as CO2, we surely should be doing everything we can to keep this at bay. Composting and vermiculture (worm-‘farming’) are gaining in popularity as means to recycling organic waste. Recycling? Both processes turn the organic waste into food for the soil. This enables us to grow our own plants. And anyone who has plucked a warm, ripe tomato direct from the vine (especially one proudly grown at home) will attest to its superior taste and aroma!

A very worthy indicator that the ‘waste’ was not waste at all.

Sue Bellinger, our Gauteng regional Club coordinator has the privilege of ‘christening’ our blog with her very first post! Sue will be writing regular articles on waste management for us.

© Sue Bellinger, March 2009

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